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BSBL: The National League East Gets Weird

The NL East is playing out both exactly the way we all thought and exactly the opposite of how we all thought it would.

Atlanta SunTrust by Counse is licensed under CC BY 2.0

BSBL: The National League East Gets Weird

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

It’s been about two weeks since we checked in on the Major League Baseball season, and most teams will be approaching 40 games played by the end of this weekend. Playoff races are starting to shape up, the trade deadline just passed, and everyone in the league now plays for the San Diego Padres. This is a good time to continue our look at each of the divisions as the teams navigate this 60 game race to the postseason. While there’s plenty to talk about off the field, this series will focus primarily on the games and how the season is shaking out. So, let’s dive in, shall we?

The Atlanta Braves

Thanks to an 9-2 record over their last eleven games, Atlanta has catapulted themselves into the lead in the NL East, with a three-game lead in the division and a basically guaranteed playoff spot.

After a rough start to the year, Freddie Freeman has returned to form as one of the key cogs in the Atlanta offense. Freeman has hit .362 with five home runs in the last month, raising his average for the year up over .315. He joins Marcell Ozuna (12 home runs, .310 average), Travis d’Arnaud (.333 average, 6 HR), and Dansby Swanson (.287 average, 34 runs scored) in a productive Braves offense that is averaging more than 5 runs per game.

Max Fried has continued his Cy Young worthy season. In his last six games, Fried has gone 3-0 with a 1.95 ERA. He has given up just 7 runs in 32.1 innings and has a 32/12 strikeout to walk ratio. Fried should (and will) be in the top five in the Cy Young voting this year, and will be the ace of the staff as they head into the postseason, especially with the loss of other pieces of the rotation.

After the first few weeks of the season, Atlanta was playing mediocre ball, but we knew if they could weather the storm they would be able to play themselves back into contention. They have certainly done that, and now, with Ronald Acuña returning from the injured list this weekend, they are in the driver’s seat for the final third of the season.

The Miami Marlins

Nobody expected much from the Marlins this year. Expect maybe to play 60 games as they were scheduled.

Turns out even that was too much for Miami to accomplish, as they were the biggest culprits of irresponsible players leading to Covid outbreaks that postponed a week of games and threatened to shut down the season.

Now the fish have a schedule crammed with doubleheaders to try to get to sixty games by the end of September. That includes a seven-game series against Philadelphia that will be played over five days and a five-game series against the Nationals, played over three days.

It’s doubtful that the Marlins pitching staff is deep enough to endure over the course of an entire season, even a shortened one. But with so many games stuffed into the next few weeks, I wouldn’t expect the Marlins to get much traction from their 17-18 record. Miami also plays 15 straight games at home, where this year they have a 2-9 record.

The Marlins offense has been pretty anemic this year, and their slugging has been non-existent. They have hit just 32 home runs in thirty-five games, and are at the bottom of the league in runs scored, doubles, and RBIs.

I guess I would be remiss not to mention that at 17-18, the Marlins are in the first Wild Card position right now. So, there’s that.

The Philadelphia Phillies

Last time we looked at the National League East, the Phillies had the worst bullpen in the league, with an ERA over 10.00. Since then, they have shuffled significant pieces around and traded for Boston’s closer by default Brandon Workman and reliever Heath Hembree. And while their bullpen’s ERA is still over 6.50, it is now only the second worse ERA in the league, behind the Rockies.

Zack Wheeler (4-0, 2.20 ERA) and Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.74 ERA) continue to lead the Philadelphia rotation as they surge towards a playoff appearance. Jake Arrieta and Zach Elfin have each been a mixed bag, though Elfin has an impressive 42/8 K/BB ratio and a respectable 1.268 WHIP.

The Phillies are another team with scheduling issues, as they missed thirteen games after facing the Marlins even when Miami already knew of positive Coronavirus tests within their clubhouse.

In addition to the aforementioned seven game Phillies-Marlins series next week, Philadelphia has four-game sets against Toronto and Washington on tap, both of which will be played in the span of three days, as well as a one-day, two-game series against the Red Sox at home in between trips to New York and Miami.  

The Washington Nationals

On many fronts, it’s been a difficult summer in the nation’s capital. On the less important but more relevant side of things, the Washington Nationals find themselves in the basement of the National League East.

The defending World Series champs have the second-worst record in the National League, and an already stumbling group buried themselves with a seven-game losing streak, including four straight to the Phillies, who they are now 0-6 against this season.

Outside of Juan Soto and Trea Turner, Washington just isn’t getting much at the plate up and down the lineup. They are batting .267 as a ballclub, which is good for third in the league, but as you move to OBP (.335) and slugging percentage (.442), they fall down closer to the middle of the pack.

Washington has hit just 47 home runs and have driven in 175 RBISruns scored, good enough for 19th in the majors. The Nationals don’t strike out much, fanning just 289 times, but they don’t walk a lot either, with just 116 free passes, tied for 24th in MLB.

Oh yeah, lest we forget Stephen Strasburg was put on the shelf for the year after just two starts. It’s another injury disappointment for the ace pitcher, who last year went 18-6 and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting.

The New York Mets

Meet the Mets! Meet the Mets! Step right up and…turn your television off because the Mets have let you down again.

The Metropolitans have not had such a stellar run since we last checked in on them. In the course of few weeks, they have had a five-game losing streak, were swept by the Phillies, and had to postpone a Subway Series against the Yankees after a positive Covid-19 test in the organization.

All-Star ace Jacob deGrom has continued to dominate on the mound. His ERA of 1.69, 70 strikeouts, 0.88 WHIP and .177 opponents’ batting average are all in the top ten in the majors. However, as has been a trend throughout the hurler’s career, DeGrom does not have the Win-Loss record that should go along with his other peripherals.

In seven starts, DeGrom has a record of just 3-1. Compare that to the other starters among the major’s ERA leaders: Shane Bieber (1.20 ERA) is 6-0, Yu Darvish (1.44) is 7-1, Max Fried (1.98) is 6-0, Zack Wheeler (2.20) is 4-0, and Zach Davies (2.23) is 6-2.

For his career, deGrom has a career ERA of 2.59 but has never won more than 15 games in a season, and has never lost fewer than six (his career average is over 8 losses per season).

Perhaps adding to this difficulty for deGrom is the fact that New York is a league-worst 3-7 in one-run games this year.

Still, the Mets are not conceivably out of contention, as it appears like the NL Wild Cards are poised to go to teams with .500 or worse records (another blight on this ridiculous MLB season).

So, that’s one more chance for New York fans to get their hopes dashed. Seems like a 2020 thing to happen, especially to the Mets.

The Weeks Ahead

I don’t have much confidence in an extended postseason run from anyone in this division, which has produced just three World Series champions in the past 23 years. The Braves and Phillies are likely early round fodder, but in this unprecedented season, you never know. Maybe the Fish will emerge and win it all. Let’s see who gets into the playoffs and go from there!

Craig has spent the last ten years as a sports information professional, working for several schools across New England at the Division 3 level. A native of Peabody, Mass., Craig is a life-long Boston sports fan. He is also an avid player of fantasy football and baseball, and commissioner of the AKA Family Fantasy Football League. Like most other Turf team members, Craig has a penchant for theater, spending his high school and college years as a set designer, sound designer and theater shop worker. He became a father shortly before the coronavirus pandemic, and as such, hasn't really left his home since last December.

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